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Dating And Relationships - Dating | September 12, 2022, 6:00 CDT

Red Flags and Green Flags for Cohabitation
Your relationship is in a good place. Should you risk spoiling that by moving in together?
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Written by

Akhila Menon
A man and woman stand next to each other holding multiple cardboard boxes labeled with their figurative baggage.
Illustration by Jaelen Brock

You've successfully made it through the honeymoon phase and met each other's friends. You enjoy spending time together, you make each other laugh and you have a ton in common.

It may seem as if the natural next step is to move in together. But wait a moment: There's much to consider before you start building a domestic life with another person.

Until the past few decades, marriage was the only socially viable option available to many people, but recent years have seen a rise in the number of live-in relationships across the country. As of 2018, 15 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34 lived with an unmarried partner, up from 12 percent 10 years earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

While multiple socioeconomic factors have contributed to this increase, integrating someone into your daily life and household is a complex process, one that poses practical and emotional questions that should be considered beforehand.

Baby steps, but big feelings

Life transitions, especially positive and exciting ones, can give way to a volley of emotions for most people. Love is one of the first big feelings a person may encounter in life, according to Elizabeth Holland, M.A., a registered counselor in British Columbia. People are excited about entering this new phase in their life, but with that comes anxiety and uncertainty.

"Anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin," she explained. "They're physiologically exactly the same. It's just the interpretation we put on the emotion. And if someone is not willing or ready to move in with someone, then they will be experiencing a lot of hesitation, a lot of anxiety and concern, perhaps even resentment for being put in that position."

For some people, fear may be part of the larger feelings puzzle, said Jaminie Hilton, M.A., a relationship therapist based in Vancouver, British Columbia. This fear may arise because live-in relationships add a level of seriousness and commitment that surpasses an exclusive or monogamous relationship.

Green flags and red flags

"When it comes to success in any type of relationship, it really comes down to just doing a few things quite well," Holland explained. "The single most important factor in having success in transitioning to cohabitation is how well the couple communicates about a variety of issues. If your partner communicates well, that's a really big green flag. If they can talk to you about how they're feeling, what they're thinking and their concerns, and then they can listen to you and your thoughts, feelings and concerns, that's another big green flag."

Holland advised using "I" messages instead of "you" messages in conversations. Using phrases that start "I'm afraid that…" is a green flag, whereas beginning statements with "You always…" or "You never…" are red flags. If you're able to talk about your own experience instead of assuming you know what your partner is thinking or feeling, that's a big green flag.

The ideal situation is that you and your partner have a collaborative, team approach to tasks instead of passive-aggressive or scorekeeping tendencies. For instance, approaching tasks neither of you enjoy—even if it's something your partner caused—with a "Why don't we do this together" suggestion is better than simply asking your partner to do it and risking a possible argument.

Financial literacy is also a green flag. It's important that your provisional partner is good with money or, at the very least, open to learning how to manage finances. Money and household chores are two topics couples argue about most.

This brings us to the importance of negotiation over compromise.

When you compromise, nobody really gets what they want, which can then build resentment over time. For example, you want to watch a rom-com and your partner wants to watch a horror movie, so you compromise and watch an action flick. Nobody wins in this scenario. Instead, a well-executed negotiation may be, "Let's watch your movie this time and my movie next time."

Some red flags are easier to spot than others. However, two major ones to look out for are engaging in communication that is disrespectful or involves name-calling and degradation, and addiction and/or abuse.

Having the big talk

Holland recommended a minimum waiting period of at least a year before you discuss moving in with your partner, though she acknowledged that different relationships and the people in them may have different speeds. If you're considering living with your partner, tell them that you first want to have a conversation about moving in together and what that might mean for both parties.

When you tell someone, "I'd really like to talk about living together," you'll find out pretty quickly how they feel about it, Hilton said. If the response is positive, then you can proceed to the next step in the process, which is having a sit-down to talk things over.

"So, with all communication, it's a good idea to agree on the time and place where you won't have distractions, when you're both able to be present, so not right after work when you're both hungry and exhausted," Holland recommended.

She suggested not setting up these conversations in social situations that might add pressure to an already serious conversation.

"You want to agree on sort of the ground rules for communication, which includes things like listening and speaking in turns, [and] discussing one topic at a time rather than tackling multiple topics," Holland said. "You're talking about what you know and what you feel…and you keep talking until you figure it out. You need to stay engaged, not shut down, not pull away."

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Written by

Akhila Menon

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